Arandel


I went to Singapore and looked around for a while, but couldn't see anything there suitable for purchase. I accepted a job with Weng Teng to skipper a ship, but I was intent on coming back to Darwin to dig into something and the conditions as far as food went during those ten months weren’t too good. This was a purely Chinese ship; chilli and rice and fish for breakfast, and rice and chilli and fish for dinner, and so hot!

I went to Indonesia to buy a ship I knew about. It was owned by the Catholic Mission in Flores, and I’d seen it six years before - a beautiful ship built by the Dutch. They told me they wanted $30,000 but Nixon devalued the dollar and the deal fell through. Then I came back to Darwin and bought the Arandel from Dave Housen.

She was sixty-two feet and was fairly reasonable in price - she was only forty-five thous
and. (The shipping register for 317252 Arandel, records that she was built in 1965 at Footscray, Victoria.) She was not a good load carrier. She was what you call a multi-chine steel hull, not very square in the bottom and not very deep either. She didn't draw a lot of water and suited a job that was going. Dave Housen had had talks with some Americans but hadn't exactly secured the job when we bought. I soon had a telephone interview with Bob Brace, an ex-captain of American assault craft. I referred him to Mr Wang Chang in Singapore who I'd known quite well and so we then went to New Guinea to do some survey work there for two months. That's all that was to do, two months. We were doing this job for Continental Oil, to survey all the southern-flowing rivers from the border of New Guinea west towards Sarong. We started first on the river at Marauke.

I only had one crew that I paid for. He wasn't real hot-shot stuff; he drank too much grog with the Americans. But he was a fair engineer and he'd been on the ship before I bought it. The Americans did the crewing when I was tying up and all that. The navigation, I did all that. We pulled into Two Island Bay going up because things were getting very grim and we had a twenty-foot boat across the stern. And the Yank said, next morning: 'Goddamn, look Sid, that's like a millpond here.' And it was too, in Two Island Bay - that's right off the tip of the Wessels. After a couple of days of this they said, “Goddamn, look, we’re paying you $500 a day.” I offered $300 waiting time but they were not interested. So, out we went again. About eighty mile out, it hit us again, the tail end of some cyclone or other. The first time ever I’ve seen a fish go past the windscreen of the ship. We had a forward cabin, of course, but she’d dip her bows down and come up again scooping up water, and this time a decent fish. By this time, to turn around would've been a little risky, I should say. So we kept going. Only thing I could do was head up towards Booby Island, to keep my head into weather. And then, when I got within sight of Booby Island, I turned the other way, on the other leg of a vector. And we were really surfing, coming down there with the wind behind us.

Anyhow, we finally get off the coast of New Guinea but could not find any of the markers that were shown of the pilot charts. But I had heard about an eleven mile stretch of coconut trees along the New Guinea side of the river. They were planted there by the Australian government. There were none planted the other side, on the West Irian side. If you wish to go into Marauke, you saw the coconut trees all standing up. So you aimed then for that and you were into the Marauke River. It was very blank weather; you couldn't do anything about position by sun or stars. But when we'd done time and distance and I'd increased it for the current, we saw another ship heading across our track. So I reckoned: 'There's only one place in that he can be going and that's into Marauke.' It was a big ship, about two thousand tonner. So we turned towards him. We cut across the corner and when we're catching him up I can see somebody looking at me in binoculars and I can see him. And I called to Thien: 'What's that across the stern of the ship? I can't read it properly.' And she couldn't either, but we gunned up and got closer and she could read it
. It was Ratrasayo. And she said: 'Oh, that's good. My nephew’s master of that.' So when we got closer she said: 'That's my nephew that's looking through the glasses.'

When we got there the port authority and the immigration minister must've had talks. And they looked at the name, motor vessel Arandel, and the previous owner - I don't know whether he'd been a pirate or not, but he had done something, and they'd slammed him in the can for a week, until he could prove otherwise and he got out. But the smell of that still stayed around so they gave us a bit of trouble.

In the middle of this - which lasted about four days -
Thien's uncle (Fred Taka) arrived, who was quite a personage. He was chief geologist for Continental Oil and was more American than Indonesian because he'd been about twenty-odd years in America. He came on board and of course he soon found from Thien that we had not been married. He didn’t approve of that! And I said: 'We were going to be married in Darwin before we left but the Americans were in a hurry and one American told me you could married any time but you couldn't get $800 a day any time.' So we were forced to depart unmarried. I said: 'Here, you have six months residence in the country before you can be married.' 'Is that so?' he said, 'I'll see the bupati.' He went to see the governor and, when he came back, he said: 'A mistake. They have six days. That's tomorrow.' So he saw the harbourmaster and the Chief of Petty Sessions and we were married tomorrow. From then on we went about our business. There was about eight or nine hundred people at the wedding and I thought: 'This is going to cost me a packet.' But luckily the Americans supplied all the beer - as we had about a hundred cartons of beer on board. And then, two days after, well, we were way up river.

(Thein explains that prior to her uncle’s arrival she had been working out how she could go home until they could be married. She knew her father would be unhappy about the postponed Darwin wedding. Her uncle’s arrival and his influence solved
that problem.)

We used to go up the river doing the sounding and recording it on recorder and astroshots. And then measuring distance became a trouble because their rivers, some of them flowed at eight knots. Well, when you were going up, alright, you had good steerageway. But when you were coming back with the current you didn't, with a vessel that could only do about eleven knots. So, whether some of our measurements were exact or not I can't say. But the Americans were aware of that.

We did the island and listened to several versions of Rockefeller's disappearance and the most likely one was that he was carved up and eaten by some locals, as some of his belongings were found in among their gear. We also went to a place called Jausica. It was an American aerial medical and religious society; they both had two doctors and two ministers looking after people. They also had two planes - one was a Curtis and the other one; I just forget the make of the other one, however, they were both seaplanes and could land on rivers. They were ideally suited to there. We went up the Barasa, and one very strange river that ran between two other rivers - I think that was the Barasa. Then when we finished we went back to Jausica and spent a couple of days there while Thien was teaching one of their wives how to make Indonesian tucker. And I was getting low in fuel so I bought seventeen drums of fuel off them for a chainsaw. I'd say they had a surplus of fuel. It was piling up on them and they didn't want to say: 'Stop,' because that may make a shortage later on. So I helped level it up. But that might've been the best bit of business I did for a long time.

However, we were coming back and we burnt a tail shaft bearing. We had a very long tail shaft and there was a mid bearing. That one broke which, of course, would let water in. So, we limped back into Marauke and I had three bearings sent; one from Bearing Service in Sydney, where I had an account; one Bob Brace, the Continental Oil chief, sent from Jakarta; and one from Repco in Darwin. After waiting for two weeks I received no bearings, so I got into a box with dozens of bearings, some second-hand and some new, that I'd bought with the ship. In there I found one that was the same diameter as the bearing that was broken, but very much lighter. It was a single-row ball instead of a double row angle bearing. I went up to a mission who had a very good machine shop but no turners. 'That's no trouble. That's a bit of cake for me though I haven't turned anything for years.' So I got to work and the shell of the bearing you couldn't turn because it was too hard, so I ground it by grinder in the lathe. The man who was boss there, he was a bit nervous about that because of the grindings on the lathe, but we put cloths down to catch them. And we ground the bearing with a taper on it so, the same as the broken one, so that it could be tightened up in the bracket. Oh, it had a chip knocked out of it. That's the reason it was there. So we had araldite; it was pretty old so we went and searched shops and found some late date stuff. And we araldited this chip in and then rubbed it down a bit lower with an oilstone so that it didn't get pounded. And we went back to Darwin on that at normal speed. And got back to Darwin, where we were married again in the United Church.

After returning to Darwin, we did mission work delivering freight to Garden Point and Port Keats and all those places. I carried freight and vehicles for the Virginia Pastoral Corporation in Indonesia. We also did environmental surveys and things like that. To me it was a holiday compared with lugging freight for the missions and things like that, which I enjoyed too, but sometimes I'd be rolling drums and all sorts of things. Well, there was none of that in that kind of work. But there looked as though there was going to be a lot of that. Maybe if we'd have kept her there would've been more. But then the work started to cut out and the Seaman's Union moved in, which meant I had to employ two crews instead of one - five weeks on and five weeks off. And I had to employ Seaman's Union labour. They wouldn't allow me out of the port without it.

I didn't make a reasonable living out of the Arandel. Not good enough. I got environmental control jobs, environmental investigative work, like with buoys out to sea, taking currents and all that, and samples from various depths at various times of tide. I did a lot of those. But those jobs are always cheap because you're not using fuel. I would be anchored for three days on one spot, sometimes. You're not incurring yourself a hundred dollars a day debt for fuel, and wear and tear too. Then I did a fair bit of work through Kalumburu and places like that. Well that was done at a very low rate because those people were in the fork stick. They had a barge of their own but they'd given it to Ningle Haritos on some condition that he did their work. Well he did other people's work and didn't do theirs.

We did a survey of Bynoe Harbour by dredging; dredging for mud samples for gold chiefly or tantalite, which there were some there, for Global Mining Company of Canada. We had a small dredge about twelve inches mouth wide and flared slightly over a piece of bore casing and pulled by a bridle, so that it travelled square, with holes halfway up to run the water out when she came up. And then we would have some about eight or ten inch of mud in the bottom. We had a lot of half drums on the deck, with holes in the sides to let water run away, and they would drain till the mud was just sloppy you know, not mud and water. And then somebody would come along and mix it all up; make it a good average mix, so you didn't get a false sample and then he got a measured scoop, like you use in the supermarket, drop it into a plastic bag already labelled with a letter and a number. Later on, they were loaded onto a truck and taken to Melbourne, I think, and then probably shipped by there to Canada. They were not processed here.

We worked on that survey twice; for two different people and we felt a bit guilty about that because the other bloke used to ask us a lot of things about the other fellow, you know. But he didn't know we'd done it before when we started, and we weren't telling him because we didn't want him to go quiet and not do it. While you've got it, you might as well take it. Anyhow, we worked for about five weeks or so for him, and a little longer for the other one. We had Professor Murphy on board. He was a geologist for the Montreal University. I think it was Montreal - a Canadian university anyhow - and obviously a very experienced and a clever man. We went into Fossil Head and he's looking through binoculars at the cliff there and he started telling me things about it: 'you would find some interesting fossil things, if you searched long enough'. I said to him: 'Of course we'd find fossil things, its called Fossil Head' - 'What kind of fossil do you find?' I said: 'We find a kind of fossilised crayfish', and he went bloody near mad. He said: 'In the dinghy - we'll go and look for some'.

We were rowing about and I was in the water with a net bag getting some rocks. You could look down there and you could see some big rocks on the bottom. They were the type of things that he wanted; rocks that had rolled away from the cliff face, where these things were imbedded in. He told me that these came from late crustaceous period. We cracked these open some of them, not always, had a stone that belonged to an entirely different type of country to the stuff wrapped around it. Sometimes you'd come to these black crayfish claws and things, and there'd be a perfect crayfish, but of a different type altogether to what we've got now. It was like a cross between a crayfish and a prawn.

I had a regular crew. For a while I had a fellow with me who came out here in a small boat for a bet from England - a fairly big - I forget how much money, but it was a thousand pounds or something like that. He had to make his own way - he had a very old quadrant, and he had to come out here with that. But he was a foreign-going master and he had been on an eight thousand tonne whaling ship. He was a man who knew the game, in spite of only being thirty years old. Well, he said he wouldn't mind a job. And just at that time, I'd lost my previous crewman who was good. He'd been on Norwegian trawlers you see. He was a trained seaman, not a fool like some of the people I got hold of. People that couldn't splice or anything. I began to think, if this bloke can navigate himself out from England on a thing that's a little more than two or three hacksaw blades, with a glass mirror stuck on the end, and a school quadrant - that's all it was more or less. We settled on how much. In those days you about eighty dollars a week was good money and away we went. It was the happiest time I had because I could get into the bunk and I could be sure that everything was alright. I found his navigation was more precise than mine and he was quicker. I'd be able to get a descent sleep for the first time for ages. Anyhow, he worked with me for oh, about eight months, nine months or something. And then his father wanted him back there. I had two or three letters from him and he was settling down happily in London and that's the last I heard of him.

Its a boat that had possibilities, had a GM motor in it - though she could've done with maybe another fifty horsepower - but she was a terrible roller. If you were not a good hard stomach it didn't pay to have a trip on her. She could roll, really roll. Twenty-nine degrees, thirty-one degrees - that sort of thing - she was rolling going to New Guinea that time. Two months before cyclone Tracey I had sold the ship. The cyclone wouldn't've worried me because I used to go up Sandgrove Creek and tie up with four strong lines and then, if I had four more, I used to put them on too. I had no trouble in cyclones; I'd weathered several.

I sold her to three local people for forty-five thousand, to three partners Woodward, Hayward, and Forsythe I think the third man's name was, who had joined forces. They bought the vessel from me at just a couple of thousand dollars more than I paid for it. So it wasn't too bad. The sale included another contract in Borneo for Betchel, the American company working in Indonesia - Kalimantan. It was a feasibility survey, same as
Thien and I had done in New Guinea.

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